Went to Go Play Northwest this weekend and played for four of the six slots. Report of how the weekend went and stuff behind the cut.
I attended Go Play Northwest 2007 last year, so it was interesting to see how they handled things differently.
This year they went with a bit more organized of a pre-convention registration set-up for those who wanted to offer games in advance and those who wanted to sign up in advance. It was still a little fast and loose in terms of structure. People could submit games at any time and registration for a game consisted of commenting after the listed game to indicate you wanted to play. There were also games at the convention proper that got offered up on the fly.
The challenge to this system was that the options for slots before the con were sometimes a little limited. In a couple situations I held off on signing up for something because my interest in a game was not very strong and I was willing so jump ship if a better offer came along. So I tried to take the path of honor and not sign up for anything I wasn’t committed to playing. The downside to that was that failing to sign up in advance meant I could easily end up shut out of options down the road.
There was a page for requesting for games to be run, but I hesitated to do that. Since I’m usually one of the jack-booted thugs who pressgangs people into running games for ACNW, I felt a bit like a heel demanding games from people when I wasn’t interested in running one myself. So I ended up not playing a lot of the games I had hoped to try out during the weekend, in part because I wasn’t aggressive enough in my unruly demands. =)
Remembering some of the confusion from last year, I goaded my wife and Nathan, who had flown up from San Diego and was carpooling with us, to get there pretty early on Saturday morning. We hit the hotel about 40-45 minutes before the first slot was to start. Our early arrival ended up being a little academic. No one else was there that early, not even the organizers.
The system was, in the end, similar to what had been done last year. Instead of a white board, though, they had poster-boards laid out on tables in the hall outside the meeting rooms that held the games. Games that had been pre-registered were printed out with the list of players that had signed up attached underneath them, with indicators regarding whether they were full or still had room so that was really nice. There were also blank forms for people to put their own games up. All told, we could have probably shown up a half hour later and had no problems.
Close to the beginnings of each slot, Tony Dowler was out making sure everyone had a game to play in, which I thought was nice. And it was what saved my bacon a couple times when I was SOL when it came to having a game to play in.
Before I get into the games I played in, I figured I’d at least comment on the venue: It seemed like a nice hotel. I gather that the organizers had some issues with them the first morning, but my main exposure to them was that they brought in pitchers of water for our games, the front desk had fresh-baked cookies in the afternoon and parking for con attendees was free. The games were usually held 2-to-3 to a room, so the play experience was a little noisy, but I guess for the normal convention experience that’s not too unusual. The hotel was in the University District, which was easily accessible and had some good food nearby. Not much in the way of 5-Star cuisine, since University Way is home to roaming homeless kids and/or college students, but certainly some reasonably priced food that is good.
Slot 1: In a Wicked Age
I’d originally signed up for a variation of Nine Worlds involving supervillains, but I wasn’t overly enthused. I’d been the only person to sign up in advance and by some weird quirk of fate it was the only one of the three games I’d signed up for that I didn’t appear on the sign-up sheet for. Since I was feeling a little iffy about the game in general, I took this as a sign from on high that I was free to try something that resonated with me a bit more.
As we who were not in a game stood around looking hopeful, Wilson Zorn offered up a game of Primetime Adventures and Tony Dowler offered up In a Wicked Age and Red Box Dungeons and Dragons. I’d like to say that In a Wicked Age resonated with me on some level, but what it boiled down to was that I got a good vibe off of Tony and I was interested in trying something new instead of just a bit of nostalgia from my junior high school years.
I was a little dubious once I realized that, yes, the game was written by the man who brought us Dogs in the Vineyard, but ultimately I ended up having a ton of fun playing. The game is set in an unspecified, Conan-esque fantasy universe. The game is played out in chapters. Each chapter opens with the players deciding what sort story they want for the chapter. The options are limited by the book to things like “Blood & Sex,” “God-Kings of War,” etc. Each style of story corresponds to a chart of “oracles.” These oracles are basically lists of one-sentence story seeds. Each player draws a card from a standard deck of playing cards. Each card corresponds to one of those sentences. So, from our first chapter, I think these were our story seeds:
KH: The ghost of a tyrant king, strangled by his own daughter.
9H: A terrible and devastating ambush.
QD: An executioner, a strangler, in service to a ruthless king.
10H: A tender of war-bulls, shaved-headed and fearless.
From these elements we had to figure out a cast of characters and the storyline that bound them all together. We concocted a murderous tale of kingdoms scheming against one another. The players portrayed the ruthless king of one kingdom, the ghost of the tyrant king, the murderous daughter and one of the war-bulls. (It had taken us a moment to figure out that a “tender of war-bulls” was a person who tends war-bulls and that “tender” was not a collective noun. Saturday morning, people.) The GM handled all the other characters.
So from there we picked names, quickly assigned stats and started the story off. The story started with Tony setting the opening scene, kicking things off with the phrase, “In a wicked age…” Each chapter ran pretty quickly so we got in two chapters. Tony was an amazing GM. He was able to quickly elaborate on our plot and our connections to help add a lot of depth to the story. The level of instant character conflict and tension he was able to insert in the game on the fly was just amazing. What he did on the fly I have trouble pulling off with days to think about. (Which also ended up leaving me feeling more critical of my own GMing in the end.) The game mechanics during play revolved around a lot of establishing what conflicts are occuring in the scene and players rolling competitively against one another to establish narrative control.
Overall, it was a lot of fun. It was quick and easy to get started, it ran pretty quickly and clearly has replay value. I think my only complaints would be that the second chapter we did lacked a lot of punch from the first one (and in retrospect, I’m not sure why) and I was a little fuzzy on exact workings of the conflict resolution. It could have been a mix of Tony being a little rusty on how things went and the fact that I probably wasn’t fully awake on a Saturday morning. Since other people seemed to be picking it up okay, I’m leaning more towards the latter.
Our meal break was the Big Time Brewery and Alehouse. The food was okay but not spectacular. The menu was limited because it was the weekend. (?!) The beer was pretty yummy, though. There were some weird mistakes on our orders: I ordered a half sandwich and got a full one. My wife got a bowl of soup instead of a cup.
Slot 2: Shadowrun using a variation of Agon
This was a game I’d signed up for in advance. John Harper is a charming individual and I was curious to see what sort of game he’d produce. Since I’d also been mulling around with how Shadowrun might be adapted to a less math heavy system, this seemed like a fun game to try. Philip LaRose, who did some of the editing on the original Agon, GMed this game. He was running it off of an adventure originally created for Agon, but instead of being a great quest to slay a mythic beast it was a covert mission to steal a corporate database.
Much of the focus on the session was on dice mechanics. I’m not sure how much of that is how Agon normally runs and how much of it was just because this was a playtest where we were trying out the modified mechanics. There was very little in the way of speaking in character. Instead people primarily described what their character was doing and rolled dice. Scenes were handled in a fairly fast and loose fashion. In a conventional Shadowrun game you might have to jump through hoops to get past the bouncer at the exclusive nightclub, ask around to find your target, etc. In this game, when we needed to be at a club to interrogate someone for information, we just fast forwarded to, “We are standing over the guy and preparing to work him over.”
As I guess is the case in Agon, there was both a team based aspect and a competitive aspect. All the players were collaborating to attain a specific goal, but they were also trying to one-up one another to get more glory. There was also an aspect to the game where players, using previously owed favors (or the promise of a owing later favor) could hinder another player character in order to get a bonus for a roll.
Play of the game revolved around mechanical tests to overcome specific obstacles. So obtaining information about how to get into the place was one obstacle. Getting through the trap-laden sewers populated by some Awakened tool-using baboons was another. In preparation for each obstacle, we could engage in challenges using whatever pertinent ability we had in order to get a bonus for the later test. So, for example, when preparing for the obstacle of “finding how to get into the place,” one of the players did a bit of hacking to find a person well suited to providing this information. This then gave him a bonus he could use at a later time.
The big fight at the end was heavily abstracted and was a mini-game all to itself. Tokens were placed on a chart that indicated relative range and the big fight at the end was abstracted into just general maneuvering and attacks. Terrain was defined only as an open and well lit area, and there were other options for other sorts of vaguely defined terrain. I’m not sure what the differences are. Given the emphasis on either tactical skirmishes on a grid matt or just narration of combat in games, this approach struck me as interesting. I can’t decide if I like it or not. It occurs to me that the first d20 version of Star Wars had a similar mechanic for starship battles, and it was panned horribly.
Overall, the concept of the game tickled the hell out of me. Replacing the patronage of Greek gods with sponsorship from megacorporations (and later having to placate them with services in exchange for their “divine favor”) was just inspired. And the game in general was pretty fun. It would have been nice to have a bit more roleplaying, but I may need to play an actual game of Agon to see how much that happens in play.
One thing that gave me pause was that characters were considered to be capable in all avenues of accomplishment. Not only were we all serious combat monkeys, but we were all capable of casting spells and hacking. The only thing that countered that was that cyberware hindered your ability to cast spells. Shadowrun, though it doesn’t have literal classes, definitely has some level of niche protection. That, along with some assorted little factors, definitely limited the feel of “This is Shadowrun.”
I’ll certainly play this again if given the chance, but more than that I want to play an actual game of Agon now.
We left the con for the evening to have dinner with my mom and step-dad at Anthony’s Bell Street Diner. Though we had reservations and checked in five minutes before our reservation, they forgot we were there. We stood five feet away from them for almost half an hour before we were seated. No, this has nothing to do with the con. I’m just annoyed and whining. Food and service was otherwise good.
Slot 4: Shooting the Moon
Sunday morning was where the format first bit me in the ass. I’d been tentatively interested in playing Don’t Rest Your Head, but while I was off with my family, the games all filled up. After our experience the day before, we arrived at 8:45. My wife and Nathan were already signed up for a game of Shab-al-Hiri Roach, so they were fine. I, however, was feeling a little anxious.
One game was submitted while I lingered at the table feeling hopeful: Shooting the Moon, a game where 2-3 players play out a love triangle. I’m not big on playing out romance in roleplaying games to begin with and was less enthused about playing such a game in such a dude-heavy environment. I spent my morning walking over to look at the games available on the table, then walking back to grumble about the state of things.
As everyone drifted off to their games, I found myself alone in the hallway with Tony who was only there to make sure everyone got into a game. I noted to him that the only game that seemed to be available was Shooting the Moon, it seemed to need three players and no one else had signed up for it. As luck would have it, someone showed up late at that very moment that also needed a game to play in. Playing out a love triangle seemed to be what I was stuck with.
By an amusing twist of fate, this ended up being the most fun I had during the weekend. Though to be honest, I don’t know how much of that is entirely due to the quality of the game. In fact, what we did may very well make the author of the game cry. The facilitator was named Willem, I think, but I can’t remember his last name.
The entire game is GM free and run collaboratively. There are three roles in the game: Suitor 1, Suitor 2 and the Beloved. There is a two-player version where the players take the roles of the Suitors and the Beloved is more of a background character. The players pick a setting and then start things off by picking Traits to describe the Beloved. Each player, including the Beloved, gets to choose two. Then the players get their traits mostly based off of synonyms and antonyms for the Beloved’s traits so that they have some things that are similar to the Beloved and some things that very much not. The game mostly revolves around finding ways to manipulate your traits in the story that you’re all building in order to get more dice in the dice contests to have greater narrative control. There are three turns in the game, with each player getting a scene. Each of the Suitors got a scene with the Beloved where they roleplayed until the other Suitor’s player tossed in an obstacle with the special phrase, “But as luck would have it…” The Beloved also got to create a scene where some sort of adversity came upon the Suitors and they had to deal with it. Each of these scenes helped players to obtain goal points as well as add and change the list of traits the characters had. Goal points were used at the end to give you dice for the final big “roll to see if you accomplish your goal!” The Suitors had the obvious goal of “win the heart of the Beloved.” The Beloved got a goal of her own choosing.
Since I laid the seeds for the story, I accept blame for having gone horribly away from what one might call the ideal Shooting the Moon scenario. Opened things with the frankly arbitrary suggestion that the game be set in “post-apocalyptic France.” For reasons I can’t fathom, they went for it. Then, since I got to pick the first two traits for the Beloved that represented her appeal to the Suitors, I tossed out “Weapons Cache” and “Advanced Scavenging Skills.” It just sort of went downhill from there.
Our Beloved was Henrietta Marie, mutant daughter of a former warlord looking to lead an armed revolt but destined to be sacrificed to some strange cult. I played the first Suitor, Jean-Philippe, the Humperdink-esque coward who killed her father in order to gain control of his lands. I was wooing her to establish and advantageous alliance. She had all the guns, but my people hated mutants. Sir Ursus, the giant loveable loner who wandered the wastelands, was looking to simply win her heart but was an outlaw! There was a definite sort of Shrek/Fiona/Farquaad angle to all of it.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the rounds. Someone thought there should be an “Actual Play” of this, since apparently you so rarely find them for games like this. I don’t know how these are normally done, but here’s my best recap of it.
– Jean-Philippe sought out Henrietta Marie to try and convince her to ally with him, but as luck would have it spies in the employ of Jean Philippe’s ex-wife (Queen Carnassia) spotted it and ran back to report on them.
– Sir Ursus took Henrietta Marie into the cult’s holdings to show her the diabolical fate awaiting her at the hands of the cult leader, but as luck would have it the cell that she was to be tortured in was also where the cultists occasionally kept their mutated war hounds which attacked and cruelly wounded Henrietta Marie.
– After getting word back from her spies, Queen Carnassia incited the people to revolt. Sir Ursus and Henrietta Marie fled to a bunker she had stashed away. I believe he was wounded at the time. Jean-Philippe sacrificed his minions in order to save his own skin, but ended up with horrible scars that marred his beauty. (This led to Henrietta Marie finding Jean-Philippe more beautiful, as pus and mucus ran out of his gaping nose hole. It also resulted in Jean-Philippe being more sympathetic towards the mutant plight.) I believe it was at this point that Sir Ursus realized that he could never get Henrietta Marie to run off with him, leaving behind her army, so he became a colonel of Henrietta Marie’s growing armies.
– Jean-Philippe finally found the bunker where Henrietta Marie was hidden. They embraced warmly, but as luck would have it a mutant mold on her clothing infected Jean-Philippe through his many wounds, causing him to experience vivid hallucinations and see the world through rose colored glasses.
– Colonel Ursus was drilling the troops and his former lover, Queen Carnassia, might have been inspired by his newfound sense of responsibility but her spies were killed before they could report back in. (Yeah, they overcame the obstacle I tossed in.)
– Ursus, in exploring Henrietta Marie’s stockpile of weapons in his military leadership role, came across a doomsday device that threatened to destroy the the world. But he was able to make psychic contact with it and stay it’s deadly barrage. I think this is also where he ended up losing an arm to the device when it’s mechanical tentacles lashed out to prevent tampering. Meanwhile Jean-Philippe was attacked by followers of Henrietta Marie who felt Jean-Philippe was too weak and sentimental for someone like Henrietta Marie and would only distract her. But in his newfound hallucinagenic-mystical state, he had attracted his own cult of followers who defended him.
– Jean-Philippe ran back to Henrietta Marie to claim that the death of her people was the result of an attack by Carnassia. Jean-Philippe wanted to use this to push his remaining land holdings as a staging ground for assault and endear himself to Henrietta Marie. But as luck would have it this is when Jean-Philippe’s cultists arrived with the severed heads of Jean-Philippe’s enemies/Henrietta Marie’s lackey’s. In the end, Henrietta Marie was mercenary enough to use this to her advantage and agreed to the assault.
– Turning back to the now one-armed Ursus, Henrietta Marie tended to him but as luck would have it, the psychic doomsday device had fallen in love with Ursus and was out to kill a rival! I don’t recall how they got out of this one. I seem to recall “copulating on the doomsday device” came up.
– Jean-Philippe led armies against Queen Carnassia, but had led them into a minefield that awaited Carnassia’s command to have the entire army destroyed. Meanwhile, Ursus was rallying together an airship squadron, but much needed parts were under the control of Jean-Philippe’s cultists! Ursus rallied the people together with a rousing speech of unity while Carnassia found herself hesitant to blow up the man she once loved.
Then came the big finale. Each of us got to narrate one thing per goal point we had, leading up to a climax where we rolled dice and the big winner got to achieve his or her goal and narrate the end. Ursus had 8 goal points. Henrietta Marie had 7. Jean-Philippe had 2. Yeah, Jean-Philippe was taking it in the shorts through the game. The ending ended up being nuts. It was “revealed” that Carnassia had a queue of clones that she transferred her mind to when her current body was failing her, Henrietta Marie was secretly a mutated clone of Carnassia that had gone rogue. Henrietta Marie contracted a nanotech virus that uplinked her control over computers, which resulted in Ursus becoming braindead. The clone factory blew up, Carnassia detonated the mines and Henrietta Marie became a hive queen over the technology of the earth.
I’m pretty sure this is not what the author had in mind when she wrote this game. Overall it came off seeming more like a twisted low-budget sci-fi film from the late 70s/early 80s than a romance. We laughed our asses off through the whole thing, embelishing scenes with bizarre details, like Henrietta Marie dabbing lovingly with a filthy handkerchief at the pus and mucus pouring out of Jean-Philippe’s nose hole.
Did I have fun? Yes. I don’t think it was the sort of fun intended, but it was fun. I think the main criticism I’d have for the game was that it tested the meager limits of our note-taking skills. Really, our sheets were overflowing with traits that got added or modified as the game went on. In my cosmology of things it definitely fit more into “story game” than “roleplaying game.” Which was fine and was ultimately what kept me from disliking the game. There were moments of roleplay, and we got bonus dice for roleplaying out flirtation between a Suitor and the Beloved, but it was often ham-handed and involved outRAYjous akSENTS! If I’d had to try and settle into serious romantic roleplay with a couple men I barely knew, I don’t think I’d have been as happy.
Will I play this again? Probably not. I think it was a very well designed game, but I just don’t see myself hankering for a story game of love triangle romances. I’d play it again if it was offered, but I probably won’t be pimping it myself. Now, playing this game while drinking could be added fun.
We ran out to get lunch at Shultzy’s Sausage. It had been a favorite place of mine back when I was in college. The waiter was very accomodating in respecting that I was on a short time frame. The sausage seemed a little overcooked, but that may have been a byproduct of the rush order. I also hadn’t realized it was going to be buried in grilled peppers and onions, which wasn’t exactly what I hoped for. The fries were awesome, though, and they seem to have a vegetarian menu. Maybe I can get my wife to come back there to eat another time…
Slot 5: D&D 4e
As those who follow this blog will recall, I’ve been having a lot of mixed feelings about the reports I’ve managed to notice about the upcoming release. I haven’t cared enough to comb the forums and devour every scrap of info that was released. Instead, I’ve just been relying on reports from friends who do actually do care. On the one hand, I’d been hopeful since Star Wars Saga Edition had removed a lot of the number crunching involved in previous d20 editions, leaving a streamlined and inobtrusive system. On the other hand, most of the mechanics in the new Star Wars are basically geared towards miniature-based combat. On the one hand I was heartened by reports that there were mechanics in D&D 4e to reward characters pursuing non-combat related quests. On the other hand, it sounded increasingly like the game was going to be driven to more greatly resemble MMORPGs.
John Harper offered this up for pre-registration and I pounced on it. John Harper is just that awesome and I wanted to give the game a try. I’d been gnawing on the decision about whether to buy the gift set version of all three books at a 45% savings from Amazon, when I was originally just considering buying the Player’s Handbook to see what it was like. So I figured this would help me decide if I wanted to drop down the Benjamins.
The funniest aspect of this whole thing was that there was so much interest that a second person also ran a demo. 15 people, then, were seated around grid mats, plus a couple that were just spectating. That’s over a quarter of the people in a convention dedicated to small press games. Some people took pictures, since it was so surreal.
The chief difference I noticed was that characters at 1st level are much more robust and geared to seem “swankier.” More hitpoints. More special abilities starting out. My first level elf ranger felt more like Legolas than Pippin Took. I had special dodging moves and even a once-a-day “fire two arrows at the same time against separate targets” ability. There appeared to be a “stunt” mechanic of some sort, encouraging players to be creative in terms of how they attack their enemies. I was a little unclear on how this worked. There was, it seemed, a chart. It never came up in play. There were also rules for minions to make the killing of cannon fodder go more quickly. While not as charming as the mook system from 7th Sea, I think it was definitely better than the rules for “extras” from Exalted. Many of the skills were streamlined down, combining multiple skills into one. Some skills, such as Craft and Alchemy, were outright removed. The mechanics were, aside from the assorted class abilities, mostly what I’d encountered in SWSE in terms of calculating values and basic dice mechanics.
Some of the class features normally associated with classes were gone. No more animal companions. No more familiars. And common faces of classic D&D were gone: Half-orcs, gnomes, bards, druids and the relatively more recent sorcerer, all gone. Warlocks, which were introduced in one of the later 3.5 books, made the cut. This sort of annoyed me because I often associate warlocks with “where I lost interest in D&D.” There were the new races I’d heard about (Dragonborn and Eladrin) and a new class I hadn’t heard about (warlord).
The attempts to be more like MMORPGs were present. They defined character roles in terms I’ve heard more commonly used with MMORPGs: Strikers, defenders, controllers and leaders. A couple PCs had the ability to pull enemies. There was also an overwhelming emphasis on combat. I don’t think anyone had a special ability that didn’t relate to combat in some way, whether it was beating things up in a special way, helping others in combat or getting enemies to surrender. I didn’t see the latter in action. John discouraged us from going that route so that we could get a strong feel for the combat mechanic. There was also an extended skill test mechanic, but we didn’t have time to try that out. From the description, it reminded me of the awful “Legwork” charts from old Shadowrun adventures. There are non-combat skills present, such as Diplomacy or Streetwise, but they seemed more geared towards light bits of color that were to be inserted between combat scenarios.
Overall, yeah, it felt like D&D in both a good and bad way. It was a bit more cinematic than I’m used to for 1st level, but I recall that being an early selling point of World of Warcraft: You’re not just wandering around at first level killing rats, you’re wandering around at first level killing cool stuff! There was some roleplaying going on, particularly from the person playing our dragonborn paladin. (He was awesome, by the way. I’d met him at last year’s GPNW and he was fun to play with in Zorcerer of Zo.) John also provided wonderful narration and a kick ass map drawn on the fly. But overall, it was what you expect typical D&D to play like. Which is fine, but I rarely have much interest in playing typical D&D. At least not while sober. While I love the general cliché setting of D&D, I usually want to do whacked out stuff with it. (And I’ll admit this is a problem on my part: I never want to run a straight version of any game, be it D&D, Exalted, 7th Sea, whatever. Which usually ends up frustrating me and the players.) Even with “normal” games, combat is a garnish for me, not a main course.
Did I have fun? Yes. It was a very fun game and runs very smoothly. Is it what I want out of a new edition of D&D 4th edition? No. I was hoping for something a bit more backwards compatible and open to options that don’t involve beating things up. I’m told there exist non-combat rules, but I have not yet seen them. I also really like a lot of the cosmology of the 3.X style of D&D and so I’m sad that they removed so many things I like. Will I be buying it? Not right away. Though I usually don’t treat this as a hinderence, I’m not likely to be playing (and, more importantly, running) D&D any time soon. For some games I’m willing to let this slide, but the new D&D doesn’t get me that excited. I won’t say “No” to an invitation to play, but I just have no use for it right now.
We went to Than Brothers in order to spend some time with Ogre and Mickey. It ended up being a rather large group of us. I agreed to pho with the hope that there would be non-pho items on their menu. I’ve only had pho one other time and wasn’t overly enthused by it. Sadly, their menu is pho, pho and more pho. The only non-pho items were custard puffs and an assortment of beverages. The pho was… okay? Others at the table seemed to love it, so I’m guessing it’s a good recommendation. The service was good, though. The downside we discovered after arriving? They only take cash. Gonk.
Slot 6: Beer and video games at home.
There were no games submitted in advance for this slot. At some point someone submitted a game of Tunnels & Trolls, which was filled by the time I got to it, and someone later put in a game called Cheap, which didn’t really appeal to me. By the time we got back, Cheap was full as was a game of Polaris that had sprung up. The last was frustrating because Polaris was a game I’d been hoping to play. The only other game on the table was a WW2 film game that Ogre was playtesting, which I wasn’t interested in. Nathan and my wife were exhausted and I didn’t feel like begging for some other option, so we bailed. We left with me suggesting that we might play something at our place, but what ultimately happened was that no one was actually interested in playing anything so we had some drinks, played some video games and I went to bed at a reasonable hour because I had to work on Monday.